Finding Wholeness

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Rev. Kelly Isola writes in Rediscovering Your Wholeness, “When you experience harmony in mind, you experience harmony in body. And when you have a sense of well-being and peace within your body, you are at peace with your body.”

I like that.  Harmony is my friend.  If situations in my life feel out of sync, I pause for a moment for prayer.  I am reminded that, “All things work together for good.”

Many times when I feel out of sync it is because my body is not responding the way I want it too.  My goal is to find a sense of peace and well-being with the food I eat.  I seek balance and find wholeness. And as Rev. Isola goes on to say, “Connecting to our wholeness is the cornerstone to a happy, healthy, meaningful and abundant life.”

It does not matter how I choose to enhance my body – regular exercise, eating nutritional food, spiritual practices, meditating, yoga, or daily walking; if I don’t connect with my inner Being and focus on how I can express individually as I AM, I’m wasting my time.  This means I must have thoughts of wholeness fill my mind to create the healthiest and most vibrant person I can be.

Going Home to Baton Rouge is Good for the Soul

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People ask me why it is so important for me to go home to Baton Rouge at least once a year, and I tell them it is because I am nothing without these people. They are part of what makes me who I am and are at the core of my being. They are my cloud of witnesses that cradle me and keep me from falling.

This past weekend “home” began with a visit with Debby Burge Cartwright and her mother, who will be 90 this year. Debby came into my life in fourth grade at Walnut Hills Elementary School. I can still remember spending nights on weekends at her house and waking to the smell of fried bacon and sitting at the table with her sister and parents to share that breakfast. Even when I was a student at BRHS, I never felt intimidated by the presence of her father, Mr. Burge, the principal at BRHS.

On Friday a small group of classmates met at BRHS which had been fully renovated since our last reunion in 2008. Guided by the Executive Director of the BRHS Foundation, Lauren Ford, we had the grand tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. Preceding our tour was a tour for the Class of 1953 who were most excited that fellow classmate and a member of the football Hall of Fame who played with the Green Bay Packers and All-American from LSU, who graduated from BRHS, Jimmy Taylor was present at their tour. We didn’t see him but reveled in his success and saw his trophies in the new glass cases. (Personally I was reminded of a day when I was 15 and got picked up by my cousin, Jim O’Neal and a friend.  We were going to his house so I could baby-sit his four children.  His friend was at LSU and I soon figured out that I was riding in the car with THE Jimmy Taylor.) Following the tour, we joined other classmates for pizza at the Pastime Lounge, a college favorite then and now.

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Peggy and Barry Altazin

Saturday night the reunion was at Mike Anderson’s. It was a smaller group than the 40th reunion, but still we had fun and enjoyed catching up with everyone. It was especially nice sitting with my Girl Scout “budde” and old friend Carol Fenton Butler. We go back to grade school and four years as camp budde’s at Girl Scout Camp Marydale. Another old friend, from pre-school age was Barry Altazin who joined us at our table. Barry lived across the street from me on Eugene Street until I was 10 when I moved up the street to the “white house” near Raymond Blvd. He and my brother John (Jack) Nason were always good friends. Again, it was good to see that none of us had changed (on the inside.) I can say that being one of the few classmates, (including Rene Esnard and Buddy Porta) with white hair.

Lunch with the girls

Sunday after church at the UUCBR, I met old friends Ellen McGraw, Janet Noland and Debby for lunch at Bistro Byronz in Baton Rouge. Ever had fried catfish filets smothered in crawfish etouffee? Not bad, not bad at all. Ellen and I have been friends since second grade when I started Walnut Hills. She lived a few streets over on Zealand and so riding bikes to and from each other’s homes was easy. After 56 years, I am proud to say we are still dear friends.

I met Janet at Westdale Junior High and can honestly say I never met a sweeter funnier girl until then. We were kindred spirits and had in us the power to become the women we wanted to be. It was with Janet that I first came to realize that no one has the power to tell me what to do and when to do it and how to do it. That power comes from me and God inside me. And to think it all came from JFK and his physical fitness plan that forced the PE teachers at our school to make us physically fit. When you are 5’2” and weigh 90 lbs., you are lucky the wind doesn’t blow you around the track much less run for what seemed forever. We were two girls on a mission and our epiphany was exactly what we needed at that time in our lives. (So maybe being physically fit isn’t that bad after all.) I was sitting next to Janet when we learned about Kennedy’s assassination; she introduced me to her classmates at LaSalle Elementary, many of whom became fellow Girl Scouts in Mrs. Gray’s troop; and she stood by me in Boosters at BRHS until we graduated from high school.Linda and John

Sunday night, the Mundinger family joined us for dinner at my sister Lindy and her husband Dale’s new home in the Garden District. I’ve known John since the day he was born, although I was only three years old. His parents and my parents were best friends and we consider ourselves brother and sister and family. Joining us was his daughter Kathrin and her fiancé Mike and son J.T. and his fiancée Christina. (She is a brave soul being an Ole Miss alumni marrying into a LSU family.)

Patricia Schmieder, Me, Sharon and David Nason

Patricia Schmieder, Me, Sharon and David Nason

Monday, Lindy and I joined our cousin Patricia Schmieder for lunch at Albasha Greek restaurant in Town Center.  We closed the lunch crew down laughing and enjoying each other’s company.  Later Patsy came over to Lindy’s and we joined our other first cousin David Nason and his wife Sharon.  Again we laughed and cried tears of joy and sadness as David and Sharon told us of their recent fire and losing their home.  I was able to give them a memento from some things that belonged to my father but originally belonged to David’s father and Patsy had an antique tea cart with glass tray that belonged to our grandfather which she brought for them.

The day ended with a trip to Zachary and a bit of time with my nephew Neil Weiner and his wife Whitney and their three children Matt, Abby and Emily. What a sweet and darling family they are.Sammy's

On the way home, Lindy and I stopped at Sammy’s for a cup of crab bisque and fried eggplant. The mural on the wall said, “Sammy’s Grill and Seafood – under the overpass on Perkins Road.” It puzzled me because I grew up under the overpass on Perkins Road – sort of. My house was on Eugene Street and the overpass crossed the railroad tracks that went behind my house. The Colonel’s Club was housed in a Quonset hut directly under the overpass. Today it is Chelsea’s, but maybe in between then and now it was Sammy’s.

I can still remember sitting on my back porch steps listening to the live bands play, including the Grass Roots. I can still remember the smell of the ligustrum plants that lined my drive-way and I can still remember the sound of the trains coming down the tracks. All the friends, sounds, smells, foods, and memories keep me centered. This is why I love to come “home” and why doing so is good for my soul.

My New Year Fitness Plan – Life

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Last year about this time I started a new Weight Watchers program.  After five or six months I quit.  Believe it or not, that is not easy to say.  I liked the program, but I didn’t see any results.  I didn’t gain any weight, but I didn’t lose any either.  And I did follow the regime right down to counting housework and gardening when it came to exercise.  But some of you may remember that I was only a few pounds short of my maintenance weight and so it looked to some that I might not belong in a Weight Watchers class.

Not only did I get questionable looks, I got remarks that were just short of unkind, and I also felt like the instructor was not up to standard.  She was kind, nice, and for all practical purposes met the needs of most of the folks in the class.  But she came ill-prepared, started the class late, and rushed through the three classes that were required for beginners.  (I forgot what they were called.)  I learned more from the website and reading the material on my own.  And most importantly, I repeat, I did not lose weight.

What happened is not pretty.  Since then I gained at least seven pounds.  The good news is I can still fit into most of my clothes but holding my breath to zip a pair of jeans is not what I call a fun time.  Therefore, I’m back where I started a year ago: needing to lose weight.  This time, I’m going to start where I did in 2009 when I lost 20 pounds in nine months.  I counted calories.

I have this neat app on my smartphone that is called MyFitnessPal.  Unlike the Weight Watchers app, I have not figured out how to add calories not in their data bank, but so far it is working well.  I know I need to eat 1200 or less calories a day and that is my goal.  I also know that I have to avoid sweets and chips, both hard to do in my case.  A couple of small glasses of red wine in the evening will do no harm, as long as I count the calories.

You may wonder what prompted this next phase of weight loss.  Maybe the “mother-of-the-groom” dress I need to wear in April or my high school class reunion in May or a beach trip with the grandchildren in June?  Who knows?  More than likely it was a gut feeling that my body is not right when I’m over weight.  Ernest Holmes wrote, “Learn to trust life…and prepare not to die, but to live.”  For me that means I need to stop doing things (like eating the wrong foods) that harm me and begin eating healthy foods that help me to live.

I inherited an Ankh Egyptian cross from my mother when she passed away.  Ankh Egyptian CrossIt is heavy and large but she wore it with pride, hanging around her neck as she dressed in beautiful turtleneck sweaters.  Known as the key of life, it represents the concept of eternal life.  I like to take the cross out from time to time and remark on its beauty and remind myself of its symbolism.  And although my mother is no longer with me, she lives eternally in my heart, young and healthy.

My body may ebb and flow, like the seasons, but I rejoice as I am reminded that I have the power to appreciate the path I am on; a path of endless self-expression and it is all Good.  This gift of life flows through me and I am blessed.

Happy New Year….Cheers to trusting life…., and Let the calorie counting begin!

It’s Not About the Lottery

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I didn’t win the Mega Million or the Power Ball last night and that’s okay.  I heard on the news yesterday that there was a 60% chance that no one would win.  I bought three tickets anyway.

Because it is not about winning, it’s about the thought of winning.  What would you do first?  Who would call?  How would you spend the money?  And would you let it change your life?

The first thing I would do is call a friend who is an attorney and seek his advice.  Then I’d call my family.  Spending the money for me does not mean going out and buying a new house, car, boat, and other luxuries.  I would divide the winning money into sections with the largest going into a foundation I would set up (with the help of an investment counselor), appoint a trusted friend and a member of the family to head up the foundation and make it available for worthy non-profit organizations.  The next portion would go into setting up a corporation that would be the parent company of small businesses.  I would not run the businesses; just invest in them to help create the small businesses.  And finally I would give my children the rest of the money to do with as they please; keeping the smallest portion for me and my husband.

It is here that it gets sticky because I do not believe in trust funds that can be portioned out at a certain date because I believe it enables children to not grow and thrive on their own (because they know the trust fund will be there one day.)  That is why I would just hand each child’s portion over to them.  They are grown children and have families of their own.  And if I have done my job right as parent by raising them well, then who am I do deny them the opportunity to build a better life?

There are thousands of stories of people who win the lottery and then trash their life and the lives of the people around them.  You are always going to find people who abuse a situation.  It is these people that bought the lottery ticket for the wrong reason.  And here I use the lottery ticket as a metaphor for all those things that weren’t good for us when we did it.

When I see people putting down other people because they bought a lottery ticket, it makes me sad.  Sad that they feel like they are better people because they didn’t buy a lottery ticket.  Sad that they can’t see the bigger picture – the fellowship at the local stores with everyone lined up to buy a ticket, the money generated to help with education and the money the businesses who sold the tickets make, but most importantly, the spirit of cheer spread throughout the country in anticipation.

In my book, that is a God Thing. Anywhere there is cheer, there is God.  My God lives in me enjoying life, living life to the fullest, appreciating and being grateful for the things I have and yes, spreading joy during the holiday season even if it means buying a lottery ticket.

And what could be healthier than the gift of joy at this time in our lives?

Peace!

Revealing Your Unique Self

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I live in clutter.  I’m positive it is not good for my health because the dust bunnies make me sneeze when I sort through stacks of boxes yet to be unpacked from my move a year-and-a-half ago.  And my back goes into spasms when I bend to pick up the clutter without using my leg muscles.

When I was a child I used the excuse that I was a scatterbrain and didn’t know any better.  As a teenager, I used my sister, who shared a room with me; that it was all her fault the room stayed a mess.  That worked again in college when I shared a room with four other girls in the sorority house.  One could only function in chaos, certainly in those conditions!  Then came marriage and four children and honestly who keeps a perfect home without clutter?  But now, it’s just me and my husband and still there are stacks of clutter throughout our home (except his office which is pristine and perfect.)

I tell people (and myself) that my clutter is organized; that I know exactly what is in every stack, box, shelf and desk drawer, but in truth I don’t.  I have an idea, but that’s all.  And I know in my heart that the clutter is unhealthy and not good for my well-being.  This I know, because when I take the time to clean up I feel the rewards, even when they may be embarrassing.

Years ago, when I was a young mother of two, we celebrated a birthday party for my two-year-old.  Back in those days, birthday parties were at homes, not places.  I worked like a dog, as the saying goes, cleaning my house, going through piles of papers, projects, crafts, toys, etc. to clear out the clutter.  One table (an antique chest) in my kitchen was a catch all for most of the junk.  I happened to walk up from behind to find my two sister-in-laws standing in front of the chest.  They were commenting on the fact that they had never seen the top of the trunk.  I laughed and said, “I heard that.”  I was hurt, but only for a second; for it was true and they meant no harm.  Just like my seven year-old granddaughter did not mean to hurt my feelings when she walked into my house the other day and said, “Mimi, you cleaned off the table.”  I had been using the table in the kitchen for some projects and it had been weeks since I had cleared it off.  I laughed and asked her to help me with the centerpiece, an antique wooden compote that belonged to my mother.

If we don’t take the time to clear out the clutter in our life, then we are not letting people see the real us.  And now in my age of wisdom, (baby boomer years), I’ve come to realize that clutter is a metaphor for hiding the real me.   I need to wake up and let people see who I really am.  I might just be surprised to see how anxious they are to see who I really am!

Saying Good-bye

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You know that it is every person’s dream to be liked and appreciated for who she is and not necessarily for what she is or for how she makes her living.  On August 6th a great lady passed away, my great-aunt.  For some, she is in heaven with God and all the family and friends that died before her.  For others she is still with us in spirit, along with a cloud of witnesses that make us who we are.  It doesn’t matter what your particular religion teaches you to believe about death, what does matter is that we celebrate her life each day.

What does it mean to be the oldest in a family; what responsibilities does that mean for a person?  For this woman it did not mean that she knew she would out-live her husband and sister-in-law, the last two children of her father-in-law, the patriarch of our family.  But she did and it was a good long life, ninety-two years.

On her ninetieth birthday, the family gathered at her new home, an assisted living.  It was the last time I saw her, but not the last time we talked, I’m glad to say.  She was most proud of her great-grandbabies and loved to ask me how my life as a grandmother was going.  She always remembered their names and parents and loved hearing about what they were doing.  She had this gift of being present in the life of the people that surrounded her.

Although her husband was my grandfather’s little brother, they were closer in age to my parents.  When they would visit my grandparents, my mother made everything stop and we joined in the family fun with our cousins.  It occurred to me that families can’t (or won’t) do that anymore.  We can’t take off work, get our children out of school, or change plans already set in place just because someone comes to town to visit much less when a relative dies.  I’ve been in that position, I know, and there is nothing we can do.  Times are different.

But isn’t that sad?  In her life all of us left in the family were born and how many birthdays, weddings, and yes, funerals did she attend?  How many baby gifts did she send our children and grandchildren? How many phone calls did she make; and letters did she write?  Countless.  But we hold no grudge for that is what families are about.  And she certainly would not be unhappy with anyone who could not attend her funeral.  She would be the first to understand.

It is with much pride that she mentioned to her daughter the day before she died that my mother who passed away twenty-two years ago was standing in her room.  What a gift to see someone who she loved and who loved her just as much.  Hearing that my mother was with her in the room prompted me to leave a day early so I too could see my Aunt.  I was awakened very early in the morning.  At first I thought it was my daughter calling me from her bedroom, but immediately I recognized my mother’s voice saying, “Pris” waking me to get up and get on the road.  It was a few hours later that I got the call from my cousin saying her mother had died peacefully.

I will forever be grateful for the life of my Great-Aunt Frances McCrary.  I will make the trip to her home town to celebrate her life along with many in the McCrary family.  I thank God for her and the love she gave us all.  She will be truly missed, but she will live on in my heart for all time.  I hear her calling me now, “Prissy, …….”

Follow Your Bliss

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Yesterday morning the cloud cover lasted long enough for me to not only water my garden, pick the vegetables but also make a good dent in the weeding.  I noticed, however, that my body was not in the proper shape for the bending and stooping and up and down movements required in the weeding.  How did I realize this?  When my back popped out this morning.

So I’m taking it easy this morning for a while anyway.  I have errands to run and things to do and that means not letting spasms in my back stop me.  The yard does look good after the rain off and on all week and the weeding helped.  And then my husband cut the grass finishing as the thunder rolled.  Afterwards we sat on the back porch and watched the lightning dance across the sky and counting until we heard the thunder.  It never got closer than two miles, according to my count but the steady rain lasted thirty minutes.  Enough to allow me a free morning today without pulling out the hose and watering the garden and my back says, “Thank you,” for that!

I recently subscribed to the Spiritual Cinema Circle, a collection of “heartful, soulful movies.”  In my first DVD, the July issue was three short movies and a feature film which was “Finding Joe,” a documentary exploring the famed mythologist Joseph Campbell’s study of a hero’s journey.  I loved it.  Well-known philosophers, writers, famous and not-so-famous people spoke to the many lessons Joe Campbell spoke to in his lifetime; one being finding your bliss.  Campbell said, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”

I got that this means to come to terms with what makes me happy; what are my passions?  Like gardening, sewing, reading, cooking, Girl Scouts, P.E.O., and of course writing.  But these are all things that I’m already doing and so I must ask myself how can I walk the hero’s journey and be the person I am called to be?

One of the guest speakers suggested we stretch ourselves every seven days.  Do something that you would not normally do.  I think that’s a hard one.  But I decided to list the things I’m passionate about and then ask myself how I could stretch myself this week in one of those things.  Being impressed with the movie “Finding Joe,” I decided to dig deeper into the life of Joseph Campbell.  I went to the library and checked out his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces and I began reading it.

Fortunately my phone is a smart one and I can look up the definition to a word when needed.  For it took me a whole afternoon to read the first few pages.  Not because I’m a slow reader but because the information I was reading is far more advanced than I am typically exposed to.  But I did get out of those pages the idea that (and I paraphrase) the unconscious sends us messages to mind through landscapes, smells, tastes and the glance of an eye that may bring us a touch of magic.  And all this leads to the discovery of the self.  Gee; I love that.

The touch of the dirt, the smell of the newly cut grass, the sound of the thunder and the look of pleasure in my husband’s eye after we completed the work all made it clear that I am on a hero’s journey and it’s my journey.  I choose to expand my life today!  May it be a big stretch that opens a lot of doors and heals my aching back!

Hot Time in the Summertime

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It’s pretty hot outside right now – 76 degrees and it is 6:30 in the morning.  The other day my son sent a picture of his son in the pool at his other grandparents home in Tempe, Arizona.  It was 6:00 in the morning and already 80 degrees outside.

My herbs on the back porch are struggling with the midday heat reaching 100 degrees, but the early morning sun is a welcome treat for them.  I just need to remember to take care of them and feed them doses of water during the day to keep them strong.  I water my garden early in the day before the heat sets in.  I realize that it might better to do in late in the evening but I go to bed too early.  On the other hand I wake before dawn and find morning works best for me and my vegetables.

People are posting on Facebook the 100+ degree temperatures of their cars, back porches and house thermostats.  We are not used to this kind of heat in the Southeast.  We are known for shade trees, lakes, deep cool swimming holes and large glasses of the “best ice tea around.”

Many are complaining, some are coming up with creative ways to survive, and sadly others are making tragic mistakes.  Like the mother that left her two small children unattended for 45 minutes playing on a slip and slide in the back yard.  Both died of heat exhaustion.  Hearing that made my heart sink and although there may be more to the story, it still made me sad.

Last week our neighborhood play group stayed outside all day.  Temperatures were in the nineties with a heat index much higher.  A couple of times I got dizzy and a couple of more times I got nauseous.  I didn’t say anything.  At 62, I didn’t want to drag the other parents down.  I realized I wasn’t drinking enough water and corrected that and things improved.  But the next time we get together we are going to Pump It Up or the bowling alley or the museum, some place indoors.

Growing up in the deep South in Louisiana, it was not the heat so much as the humidity that made for a miserable day.  We lived in an old house that had one window unit in my parent’s bedroom.  But the rest of the house was cool and comfortable for we had an attic fan which kept the air moving in the house.  Surrounded by huge oak trees the cool of the shade was sucked into the house by the fan and out through the attic.  We were never hot indoors.  But how nice it was to come inside on summer afternoons, snuggle up with a good book on my parent’s bed and then fall asleep in that cold room.

I saw on Facebook a response to the question on how to keep your house cool.  One person said she keeps her thermostat at 68.  I had to laugh.  If I kept my thermostat down that low, I’d be wearing a sweater in the house and paying my electric bill and not eating.  Not to mention the fact that if everyone did that it might drain the system and we might suffer brown outs.  We keep our thermostat set at 75 but the house stays at a steady 77, night and day.  I’m keeping the blinds closed and using minimal lights and it is very comfortable in my house.  Ceiling fans are a big help.

And like the oregano and basil on my back porch, I’m staying hydrated, after all about 60% of my body is water according the Mayo Clinic.  Water carries nutrients and oxygen to cells, helps to dissolve minerals and other nutrients to make them accessible to the body, lessons the burden on kidneys by flushing out waste products, helps prevent constipation, protects body organs and tissues, lubricates joints, moistens tissues such as those in the mouth, eyes and nose, and regulates the body temperature.

It’s not how hot it is that counts; it is how I can make wise choices for my garden, my grandchildren, my community and myself that counts.

Louisiana Food to Die For

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I’m hard put to think of any food I like more than red beans and rice.  And after spending a week eating Creole food throughout the trip, the one thing I did not get to eat was red beans and rice.  Zea’s in Town Center in Baton Rouge has it on their menu.  It comes with a huge fried chicken breast served on top of a steaming plate of dark red beans and gooey rice; just the way I like it.

But I didn’t make to Zea’s on this trip.  But I did eat some amazing food while visiting family and old friends in Louisiana.  And that’s what it’s all about – FOOD.  What you ate that day; what you are going to eat later in the day; who you ate with; where did you eat; how was it cooked (grilled, baked, sautéed, boiled, and of course fried); was it a gumbo, Etouffee, or bisque; and on and on and on.  It never ended.

My first stop was a little hole in the wall just outside the Louis Armstrong International Airport (a.k.a. MSY – New Orleans) called Fisherman’s Cove in Kenner, LA.  I had the (notice the THE as that is how one refers to the food in Louisiana) fried eggplant stuffed with crabmeat and covered with crawfish Etouffee, a couple of slices of buttered French bread and a glass of Shiraz.  It melted in my mouth.  (Needless to say I didn’t count Weight Watcher points while out of town this trip.)  The portion was moderate and very satisfying.  My sister had boiled shrimp and said it was very good.

The next day we met up with two old friends from our early childhood and their mother.  We think it was my wedding, forty-one years ago this May 30th that we last saw them.  We four girls look good for our age, but their mother looked fantastic.  Unfortunately the restaurant was packed (it was LSU graduation that day and everything was crowded on that side of town.)  We could barely hear each other but we had a wonderful visit and enjoyed a delicious American meal at J Alexander’s near the Mall of Louisiana on Bluebonnet Road.  I had the Cypress Salad with chicken fingers, bacon, cucumbers and cheese.  It was very good, but huge so I ate about half of it. On a side note, when I left Baton Rouge in 1976, Bluebonnet was a street off Jefferson Highway that was part of a quiet neighborhood.  Today it is a vein in the thoroughfare that cuts through the South side of Baton Rouge, stretching from Jefferson Highway to Highland Road, four lanes of one commercial business after another.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of spending the day with three old friends.  Two of which I had known since I was a child and the third I met in junior high.  We were all good friends through high school and college and have remained close as adults.  We get together once a year when I come to Louisiana to see them.  One lives in Franklinton, LA in an old home she has renovated and filled with antiques; one lives in a beautiful traditional Acadian home in Denham Springs while the third is still in Baton Rouge in a lovely old neighborhood on the South side of LSU.  She still has her father’s season tickets to the LSU football games on the 40 yard line as well as LSU basketball season tickets.   This year we gathered for conversation in Denham Springs eating lunch at Randazzo’s Italian Market.  I had the lasagna and it was very good.  It was the charm of the couple who own the restaurant that was most endearing as they walked up to every table asking if our meals were acceptable.  Moving from Italy to Denham Springs, the chef and his wife opened the business to bring the “traditions from the hills of Italy to the Bayou country.”

As my friends talked over each other and about our choices of food, we connected as we did as children filled with the love of friendship.  Missing was one friend who had a conflict, a wedding to attend in New Orleans.  But we thought of her and others who might join us next time.  After perusing the antique stores in “Old Denham” we made a stop at the home of one of my friend’s mother.  Living in a retirement community near her daughter in Denham Springs, she looked and acted just as she did when I was a child, proud, beautiful, and always the gracious hostess.  Because it wasn’t just a visit to her apartment, it was also a visit to the dining room where we talked about the food and saw the beautiful tables and chandeliers and menu for the night.  Even retired people in Louisiana, look forward to their meals which I found in some pleasant way very consoling.

That night my sister and I joined our cousin and his wife at Ralph and Kacoo’s, a famous seafood restaurant.  I had a delicious bowl of crawfish bisque and a Sensation Salad and two Coors Light draft beers.  The salad was made famous by Bob and Jake’s, a steak restaurant very popular when I was a child.  Crawfish bisque was my all-time favorite dish growing up as a child.  The original owners of Ralph and Kacoo’s had a place on False River called the Triple Arch, in New Roads, Louisiana.  It was a favorite pastime for my parents and friends to make the trek on Sunday’s after church.  The dining room was to the right after entering the building.  The walls along one wall were covered in a mural of Southern families, horses and buggies.  The bar was to the left of the dining room and off-limits to us kids.  But not the dance hall.  It was straight ahead from the front door.  We loved to finish our meal and get permission to go the goldfish pond out back which meant going through the dance hall room to the back door of the restaurant.

The wooden floor was smooth and aged from years of dancing.  The tables were up against the wall with folding wood chairs stacked along the wall.  Outside was a round stone goldfish pond filled with lilies.  The lake (False River) was swampy and creepy and we stayed as far away as possible from it.  Back inside we felt safe, loved and protected by our parents and waiters who knew us each time we came.  Hush puppies were a specialty and a lost art, I’m afraid, but the memories of those trips to eat seafood and share a meal with other families still warm my heart.

Sunday was a day of rest with a home-cooked meal for lunch with my sister and then a visit with old family friends in Springfield, Louisiana.  Having lived most of their adult life in the Memphis, TN area, they served Memphis BBQ which was like coming home and most rewarding.  But more so was that their two grown children drove all the way from Baton Rouge to spend the time with us.  It’s not easy to leave someone you’ve known since the day they were born, three years after you were born.  Like a brother, this friend’s parents were my second parents.  His family is my family and sharing a meal with them was a blessing.

And so it ended, five days in Louisiana, and yet no red beans and rice.  But today I decided, enough is enough.  I spent the morning cooking dry red beans with onions until they were soft and perfect.  I could have added sausage as usual but I didn’t.  And just when I thought I could never replace Zea’s red beans, I invented my own recipe!  Left-over BBQ hamburgers (one and a half) and Nathan’s beef hot dogs (one) cut into pieces and added to the beans and voila, the perfect red beans and rice!  It was delicious and my vacation was complete.

In between I had some delicious strawberries and blueberries covered in real cream, some chicken and sausage gumbo, and a delicious Bishop’s Cake out of the River Road Cookbook (the Louisiana Bible of cookbooks) and my stomach was full, my appetite satisfied and my heart happy.

Good food, good friends, good God, let’s eat…Amen.

Attitude vs Weight Loss

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Everyone needs a cheerleader now and then while on their weight-loss journey.  Last week I heard from fellow travelers giving me good advice.  I learned that I’m not alone; that there are many people in this world going through the same issues I’m going through whether it is the meeting place, the people at the meeting, the leader or the number on the scale.

The past seven weeks at Weight Watchers has flown by.  I only missed one meeting when I was out of town.  I could have found a local meeting, but didn’t make the effort.  I’ve lost a total of 3.6 pounds.  When I was younger I’d most likely beat myself up for not losing more weight in seven weeks, but not so today.

The leader asked us to share ways to change how we think about ourselves, what mantra we us.  I said, “How I think about myself is more important than how much weight I’ve lost.  If I change how I think, then I change my life, and changing my life gives me the power to change the world.”  For a split second there was dead silence and then a few ooooh and awe’s as if others in the class were absorbing the idea that this was possible.

Yes, it is all about taking control of our destiny and putting ourselves first.  One lady said she had always put her husband and children first and then when she was in her thirties when her sons where still young boys she jumped on her riding mower and started cutting the grass on their property.  The boys would chase after her for this or that, and she’d said no, she was too busy cutting the grass.  It was the one place they couldn’t bother her, she said.  And she added she had the shortest grass in the county, to which we all laughed.

It’s nice to laugh about yourself now and then.  It is good for the soul.  So here’s one on me.  Remember my blog last week about sitting alone and no one speaking to me?  Well, I took everyone’s advice and moved to another row sitting on the inside seat.  That row filled up almost immediately and I had conversations with the women to my right and in front and behind me.  And what about the seat that I used to sit at?  Well, a woman sat in the exact spot and no one joined her until right before the meeting started when one other sat at the opposite end of the row.  I made a point of saying hello to her before I left.  It was the seat — not me!